Raymond Burr was an iconic actor. Yet, how many people could say they knew the person behind the famous name? After all, his whole life was shrouded in a veil of falsehoods that he invented to hide his great and forbidden love.
The famous actor Raymond William Stacy Burr was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, on May 21, 1917. He became famous for his extensive and prodigious Hollywood career, which spanned numerous movies and a few hit television shows. The most famous of these was his role in the drama “Perry Mason
The show took a heavy toll on Burr. Every weekly episode was an astonishing hour-long installment, and its filming constantly required Burr to be on set early morning. The actor worked continually, often spending 15-hour days working on the next episode and sleeping in a little bungalow on set.
The actor spent nine years of his life starring in “Perry Mason” as the leading lad. Looking back at the years he spent devoted to making the TV drama a success, the actor admitted that he wasted a large portion of his life that he could have spent differently. One thing he lacked in his life was a family. He mentioned:
“The only thing I regret in my life — I’m sorry I spent nine years of my life tying myself down. I couldn’t be married, have a family, even have friends.”
That’s not to say that Burr didn’t try to have a family. Throughout his life, the actor insisted that he had been married three times, each union ending in tragedy. According to Burr, his first wife died in a plane crash in 1943. Burr briefly mentioned that they had had a son together, Michael Burr, but the boy passed away due to leukemia.
His second matrimony ended in divorce after only a few months. His third marriage was veiled in mystery, much like his first bride. According to Burr, his third wife, Laura Andrina Morgan, succumbed to cancer before the couple could go on their honeymoon. After his death, all but his supposed second marriage turned out to be a lie.
The Skeletons in Burr’s Closet
After years of confusion surrounding his past wives and persistent silence from Burr surrounding the topic of his son, the media soon gave up badgering the actor about his private life. Burr preferred to keep his personal affairs out of the limelight and often dismissed questions about his past marriages.
Besides his reputation for being a talented actor and the numerous roles he starred in, Burr also took an interest in helping young, impoverished individuals find their feet.
Despite his reticence to speak about his past, the public became fascinated with the tale of his late wife and son. When reporters asked him about them, Burr would respond with the same curt phrase, “I don’t discuss that.” In a way, his reluctance to broach the topic made it spread like wildfire, making it part of his mysterious lore.
After a while, people accepted the tale as fact, assuming the tragedy was too painful for Burr to linger on. Despite the public’s willingness to believe the story, cracks started forming when Burr’s second wife of only a few months, Isabella Ward, insisted that she knew nothing of a marriage preceding theirs.
Ward always held out that she was Burr’s first wife and that he never mentioned anything about a woman before her. She also noted that she had never met his son before he supposedly died from leukemia. Burr’s family also admitted that they had never met the bride or the boy. Ward confessed:
“No, I never met him. Because there was no son. But I don’t want to talk about that — it isn’t my place to say anything about that. I was Ray’s first wife. If there had been a wife before me, he would have told me.”
Burr maintained that he chose to be unwed because of his busy schedule. He mentioned that he had difficulty finding a woman who had no qualms with his 15-hour work schedule. On the nights that he made it home, he often arrived considerably late, but he spent most nights at the studio, not going home for days at a time.
In 1993, Burr’s private life started seeing the light. The actor was diagnosed with severe kidney cancer, and he knew he wasn’t going to live for long. One by one, the stories he had spun about his past started to unravel, and people began to realize that most of what he had said about his life was fabricated.
Although the actor had been married to Ward for a while, the actress realized marriage didn’t suit her. Meanwhile, Burr had been using the union to cover up the fact that he was gay. Burr had kept his sexuality a secret to avoid being shunned by the rest of Hollywood and keep his career intact.
Burr spent his last days saying goodbye to his closest friends with numerous extravagant parties at his California home, where he lived with his long-time partner, Robert Benevides. Burr and Benevides had been together for 35 years, having met through the infamous Scotty Bowers. They also worked together on “Perry Mason.”
Benevides admitted that Bowers had set him and Burr up in 1959, and they spent the rest of Burr’s life together. Rumor had it that the pair were quietly married in 1963, and Benevides looked after the house, knitting Burr sweaters in front of a fire. A close friend of the couple opened up about their relationship, saying:
“If you went to their house, Raymond would be wearing a frilly pink apron and doing the ironing. He fussed around like the woman of the house. Raymond always called Robert ‘my husband.’ He would knit sweaters for him in front of the fire.”
Finally, after Burr passed away, all his secrets were revealed by several sources. The actor left everything he owned, including a vineyard, to his partner, Benevides. After his passing, Benevides took over the vineyard, continuing what his partner had started. He also opened up about their relationship in the following years.
Raymond Burr’s Legacy
Although the public was disappointed to learn Burr had fabricated much of his past, he was still seen as an exceptional talent after his death. His two popular TV shows, “Perry Mason” and “Ironside,” were still revered as excellent entertainment, and he was lauded for his acting in the various Hitchcock films he starred in.
Burr developed a need to enrich children’s lives after seeing how impoverished many people were in the countries he visited.
Besides his reputation for being a talented actor and the numerous roles he starred in, Burr also took an interest in helping young, impoverished individuals find their feet. Throughout the years, the actor adopted many less-than-fortunate young people from Italy, Greece, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Fiji, and Hindustan.
In many cases, Burr merely supplied the children he adopted with the money needed to start making themselves independent. In one case, he provided a Korean boy whose father had lost both his legs with $132.41, so he could start his own poultry business. The young man, Duk Hwa Lee, made a success of himself and kept in touch with Burr.
Burr believed every child he helped was worthy of his money and time. He often wrote to them to hear how things were going, and they always responded. They kept him up-to-date with how their lives were progressing and even sent the actor their report cards to boast about their academics.
The actor adopted 27 children in total, often visiting them and their families when he traveled to their countries. When he bought his home in Fiji, Burr brought six of the local children back with him to his house in California. The actor proceeded to pay for their entrance exams and their college tuition.
Burr developed a need to enrich children’s lives after seeing how impoverished many people were in the countries he visited. He saw homeless people shivering in the streets, hoping for some scraps to get them through the night, and realized he had the power to make a real difference in many people’s lives.
Burr started enquiring about projects aimed at helping those in need. A friend noticed his interest in charity projects and directed him to the Foster Parents Plan. The initiative asked for a mere ten dollars a month, which they sent to a child in need. The sponsor could also write them letters that were translated and delivered.
Over the years, Burr’s love of charity grew, and he became more involved in the lives of the children he sponsored. On many occasions, he would take the kids and their families on shopping sprees when he arrived in their country. The actor wanted to do everything he could to give them a leg-up in life.
Burr also helped support his nieces and nephews over the years. He established a private initiative that helped over 30 children around the world. Besides using his fame for the benefit of children in need, Burr lived his final days out with Benevides. The two shared a house, albeit secretly.
At that point, many people had already found out about Burr’s secret life, and Benevides decided it was time to come clean.
Burr and Benevides often went on trips together, visiting countries they both loved and experiencing the world together. In an interview, Benevides opened up about their travels abroad, saying Burr was partial to Portugal. They indulged in their love of wine together, tasting new bottles wherever they went.
In the same interview, Benevides opened up about his plans for his vineyard after his partner’s death. The producer admitted that many people have wondered whether he would sell the property, but he acknowledged that he had no idea where he would go instead. Benevides shared:
“I can’t imagine why I would sell and move to anywhere else because I love it here. Why would I go somewhere else? I do go to Faial every year because I have a little house in Praia do Almocharife. Uhm, it’s a little old house. It’s been there for a long time.”
Benevides shared that the vineyard not only holds a special place in his heart but it also provides him with the means to make a living. In his old age, Benevides tended the grounds, keeping the farm running smoothly and making wine to sell. He mentioned that keeping the vineyard going required constant effort, but it was worth it.
Burr and Benevides were lucky enough to spend their last days together on a farm in Sonoma County, California. The two tended the property until Burr succumbed to his cancer. After he passed away, Benevides took over, keeping the memory of his partner alive by keeping the things he had loved alive.
Benevides kept out of the public eye after Burr passed, preferring the solitude of the farm and the vineyard. When Bowers started leaking information about the numerous gay actors in Hollywood, Benevides didn’t even realize until he was contacted by a journalist, hoping to verify the claims Bowers was making.
At that point, many people had already found out about Burr’s secret life, and Benevides decided it was time to come clean. He confirmed that he and Burr had been in a relationship. He noted that although he couldn’t speak for every little fact in the book Bowers published, he vouched for Bowers’ honesty and character.
Besides working in the vineyard, Benevides is enjoying his retirement. He opened up about his life, saying he spends his days traveling. He explained, “I made a promise to myself that I would travel every month.” He lives on any of the two properties left to him by Burr. Benevido was the sole beneficiary.
Burr even wrote his sister and the rest of his family out of his will. Although Burr’s family tried to challenge the will to get some of his assets, but the courts ruled in Benevides’ favour, making him the sole trustee of Burr’s entire estate.